Difference Between Apnea and Hypopnea

Nowadays, breathing disorders during sleep are becoming very common. When a person has abnormal breathing while sleeping, it means he is having a breathing disorder. It occurs due to obstruction of the pharynx that is the upper airway. These disorders can have a crucial impact on health. Two such conditions are- Apnea and Hypopnea. 

Apnea vs Hypopnea

The main difference between apnea and hypopnea is that apnea occurs when a person cannot breathe for about 10 seconds or more. On the other hand, in hypopnea, the person has shallow and slow breathing. The supply of oxygen to the lungs reduces. Apnea is a much severe condition, while hypopnea is not very serious. 

Apnea vs hypopnea

Apnea happens when there is a total blockage of air. The person faces this thing repeatedly during sleep. The symptoms can include loud snoring and tiredness even after sleeping for a long time. It can occur when the back muscles in the throat relax. When this happens, the airway closes as you breathe. 

Hypopnea occurs when there is a partial blockage of air. It can happen during sleep as well as when the person is awake. The airflow decreases for a few seconds in respirations, and less oxygen reaches the red blood cells. The risk factors include- obesity, heavy smoking, daily alcohol consumption, and genetics. Hypopnea more commonly happens in men. 

Comparison Table Between Apnea and Hypopnea

Parameters Of ComparisonApneaHypopnea
DefinitionApnea is a sleeping disorder in which there is a total blockage of the airway. Hypopnea is a sleeping disorder in which there is a partial blockage of the airway.
Breathing mechanismA person cannot breath completely in this problem. A person faces slow breathing.
TypesObstructive and central. Central, obstructive and mixed.
ProblemsYou may face health problems like trouble in heart and high blood pressure. Health problems like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases can happen.
SymptomsSudden headaches, frequent mood swings and sweating.sexual dysfunction, weight gain and choking.

What is Apnea?

Apnea is a crucial sleep breathing disorder that can cause health problems if you ignore it for a long time. Heart trouble and high blood pressure are two of them. It can cause breathing to stop again and again while you are sleeping. You will snore much louder and feel tired the whole day. Older men who are overweight can more often face this disorder. 

Two types of sleep apnea are- 

  1. Obstructive– It occurs when a person is facing repetitive airway blockage. Both partial and total blockage can happen. As the chest muscles work hard to open the airway, the pressure keeps on increasing. Breathing usually takes place with a jerk in the body. It can cause irregularities in heart rhythm
  2. Central– In this, the brain fails to give signals to the muscles to breathe. It can happen due to unstable respiratory control, as this type of apnea relates to the functioning of the nervous system. 

Apnea occurs in 25%of men and 10% of women. A person of any age can have this problem, including babies. It occurs in people who have a large neck and are overweight. The symptoms are- dry mouth after waking up, sudden headaches, frequent mood swings, and sweating during sleep. 

What is Hypopnea?

Hypopnea is a condition when a person has shallow breathing, and these episodes are known as hypopneas. The oxygen levels in the blood face a reduction. If it is not taken care of immediately, it can cause problems like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. A person loses 20% to 90% of his normal airflow with a drop of 3% oxygen saturation. The impact worsens if the event occurs for long periods. 

It can occur when there is a partial blockage in the airway while the tissue in the throat becomes prominent. 

Three types of hypopnea- 

  1. Central– It happens when breathing reduces, and not the airflow. Some medications and problems in the brainstem can cause this type of hypopnea. 
  2. Obstructive– obstructive sleep apnea-hypopnea syndrome(OSAHS) or obstructive hypopnea occurs when- there is a partial blockage in the airway. The tissues in our throat relax when we sleep, and sometimes they narrow the throat. It creates a blockage in the airway. 
  3. Mixed– This is due to a reduction in both breathing and airflow. It is a different category, yet it is a part of OSAHS. People who have this syndrome most likely face mixed hypopnea. 

The symptoms of hypopnea are- sexual dysfunction, excess weight gain, choking while sleeping, sleepiness during the day, loud snoring, and mood swings. 

Main Differences Between Apnea and Hypopnea

  • In apnea, there is a complete blockage of the airway for a few seconds. While in hypopnea, blockage of the airway is partial. 
  • When a person has apnea, he can’t breathe at all. On the other hand, if he has hypopnea, he will breathe slowly. 
  • Apnea happens when a person is sleeping. But hypopnea can occur during sleep and also while the person is working.
  • There are two types of apnea, that is obstructive and central. While there are three types of hypopnea, that is central, obstructive, and mixed. 
  • If you ignore apnea, you can face problems in the heart and high blood pressure. On the other hand, if you do not treat hypopnea, you may face diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. 
  • Apnea is a severe disorder, while hypopnea is not a very severe condition. 


Whether you have apnea or hypopnea, it is crucial to take care of it as soon as you get to know about it. If you feel any symptoms of any of the two conditions, then immediately visit a nearby doctor. He will ask you about your sleep schedule and the weird breathing pattern that you are facing. You will have to take a few tests, such as home sleep tests and nocturnal polysomnography. 

For the treatment, you may have to change your lifestyle if it is a mild case. Quit smoking and drinking. Also, losing some amount of weight may help. If you have a blockage in your ear or throat then, you must visit a doctor. In hypopnea, the doctors recommend continuous positive airway pressure therapy(CPAP). In this, a mask or hose delivers air inside while you are sleeping. When it comes to health, avoid taking any risks. 


  1. https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199601113340207

2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012369216473800

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